By AARON GETTINGER
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
From T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”
Spring, spurred the annual hemispheric tilt towards the sun, marked by increased warmth and ecological rejuvenation, has finally come to Hyde Park, Chicago.
It is quite late this year. Maps from the National Phenology Network (usanpn.org) showing a synthetic measurement called the first leaf index show its spread is around 20 days late. The first bloom index is similarly delayed.
Nevertheless, daylight saving time began in March, the grass turned green weeks ago, and, even though most trees are nowhere near leafed out, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are in bloom. The extended forecast projects highs above 50 degrees for the foreseeable future.
Throughout the neighborhood, Hyde Parkers have taken to the streets to enjoy the much-anticipated good weather—though some express a Midwesterner’s apprehension about it, honed from years of encounters with Mother Nature’s capriciousness.
In Bixler Park, 1372 E. 57th St., Roland Hayes took a moment from taking measurements for the Hyde Park Community Art Fair to reflect on the season shift. “It hasn’t gotten here quick enough, but the old adage in Chicago: ‘Wait 15 minutes, and the weather will change,’” he said.
“Or, ‘Every day is an adventure or two!’” added Dorri Ellis, holding the other end of a tape measure. The fair, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, is scheduled for June 2 and 3. “Hopefully the weather will be better by then!” said Hayes.
“I’ve been in the Parks District for 26 years, and this is the latest spring I can remember in a while,” said Jackson Park supervisor Bobbie Beckam. He said the cold has not affected his job too much and that pickleball teams, basketball players and track runners have been meeting inside. Though the flower garden has not been growing because of late frost, “The Osaka Garden is up and going! It should be booming since the weather’s gotten much, much better.”
True to its name, the outdoor patio at the Plein Air Cafe, 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., was bustling at lunchtime last Thursday. Valentina Discepolo, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago, expressed happiness at the recent warmth but drolly noted that her parents, who live in Italy near a beach, are enjoying 80 degree weather. Haley Randolph, a Montrealer set to come to the U. of C. next year, said her city just hit 55 degrees for the first time in seven months.
“We’ve been eating outside a lot, trying to maximize time outside,” said Lowell Weisbord at Plein Air with Emma Mitnick, both first-year U. of C. students from New York City. “It’s funny how summery spring feels because it’s been so cold,” he said.
“I believe the first 18 days were the coldest start to April in 137 years,” said Dr. Mika Tosca, an assistant research scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She said this phenomenon is the subject of much speculation but that the popular theory among climate scientists is that less summer and autumn sea ice in the Arctic leads to more heat absorption by dark ocean waters.
Because of the warmer Arctic, the temperature contrast between the areas around the North Pole and Chicago is not as strong, said Tosca. This weakens the polar vortex, which results in polar jet stream waves of higher amplitude. “If a higher amplitude polar jet trough comes down over the Midwestern United States, it pulls down a lot of Arctic air. Sometimes it gets stuck, and we’re stuck with weeks of Arctic air,” she said.
According to Tosca, the long-range climate models are projecting a warmer-than-average summer. She added that the many scientists think that Chicago will experience more cold springs and extended periods of unseasonable winter warmth as the climate continues to change.
The prolonged cold has not affected the arrival of springtime staples at Hyde Park Produce (1226 E. 53rd St.), however. Nick Craft, an employee, said that an earlier sale price of asparagus, at 69¢ a pound, was the cheapest he had ever seen it. Though strawberries are not yet in season, the grocery has a great amount of garnet-hued rhubarb in stock.
In an interview with the Herald, Jane Ciancci and Lesley Bloch, organizers of the May 18 and 19 Hyde Park Garden Fair, say that the soil is generally warm enough to plant things in Illinois by this time but that everything has been slow this year. Lilacs, for instance, are generally in bloom by now but remain dormant, said Ciacci.
Bloch does not anticipate much damage to vegetable gardens, as they are generally planted in the middle of May. She imagines more will “pop out” after more warm days but is appreciating the daffodils and tulips thus far blooming. “It’s a lovely time of year, because you really appreciate these flowers after the winter, though there may not be that many,” said Ciacci.
Bloch said to look for just-opening forsythia bushes’ golden yellow flowers and that the stretch of Harper Avenue against the railroad embankment north from the Midway Plaisance is currently quite pretty.
The Herald has independently confirmed that residents there appear to put a lot of work into their yards, which are abundantly in bloom, and that a stroll or bike ride down that stretch of street is absolutely sublime.